Frank Youngman

The title of the African-Asian Conference organized by the IIZ/DVV in Cape Town, South Africa, from 11 to 13 April 2005, was “The Training of Adult Educators in Africa and Asia-Pacific. Present Situation and Recommendations for the Future”. About 50 African, Asian and European adult education experts took part, among them two staff members of the IIZ/DVV headquarters and five IIZ/DVV project directors from Africa, Central Asia and Poland. A regional follow-up conference has already been held, in Bamako, Mali, and another will follow in Kenya in December. The Keynote Address printed here was given in Cape Town by Frank Youngman. Key questions were: why is training for adult educators so important, and how can it be improved? Prof. Frank Youngman has been using a wide variety of methods and styles to train adult educators at the Department of Adult Education of the University of Botswana since 1975. He is the editor of numerous publications on the subject, and well known to our readers as an author.

Making a Difference: Development Agendas and the Training of Adult Educators

It is a pleasure and a privilege to have the opportunity to address this Conference today. I would like to thank the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association (IIZ/DVV) for the invitation to make this address and to congratulate Professor Hinzen and his colleagues for conceptualising and organising this Conference. I believe it will prove to be a landmark in the development of the training of adult educators, not only in the Africa and Asia/Pacific regions but also internationally. Since 1997, the training of adult educators has had increased attention in international discussions on adult education and I believe that the outcomes of this Conference will make a significant contribution to these ongoing discussions.

Today I wish to focus on two questions which I think are of particular significance with respect to the theme of the Conference. Firstly, why is the training of adult educators an important area of concern? Secondly, how can the training of adult educators be strengthened?

I should start by saying that these two questions have been central to my own professional life in adult education. Since I joined the Department of Adult Education of the University of Botswana in 1975, the main focus of my work has been the training of adult educators in all its dimensions, including teaching on face to face courses and distance learning programmes, running short in-service workshops and a four year degree programme, working with grass-roots adult educators and with PhD students, and teaching in venues ranging from community halls with tin roofs that intensify the sun’s heat to air-conditioned e-learning smart classrooms. In all of these contexts, I have asked myself and my colleagues: why is our work worthwhile and how can we do it better?

Over the years, I have interacted with many of you who are attending this Conference. It is a great source of strength to share a common purpose and to feel that we are working together to achieve progress in our different contexts. It seems to me that we share the assumption that adult education has the potential to contribute positively to the development of our societies. For this potential to be realised, it is logical to think that it is important to ensure that there are well-prepared adult educators to develop and implement high quality programmes that will have an impact. It is for this reason that I believe the training of adult educators can make a difference to the achievement of the goals of socio-economic development and building a better world.

Hence I have entitled my address “Making a difference: development agendas and the training of adult educators”.

Adult Education and Development Agendas

At the international level, the most inspiring event in adult education in recent times was the Fifth International Conference on Adult Education organised by UNESCO in Hamburg, Germany in 1997 (and known for short as CONFINTEA V). Quite a few of us here at this Conference had the privilege to attend CONFINTEA V, but even those who did not attend CONFINTEA have been influenced by its outcomes, captured in the document entitled The Hamburg declaration and the agenda for action (UNESCO, 1997). As you will recall, CONFINTEA V followed a series of major end-of-the century United Nations conferences on key development issues – education for all (Jomtien, 1990), the environment (Rio, 1992), human rights (Vienna, 1993), population (Cairo, 1994), social development (Copenhagen, 1995), women (Beijing, 1995), settlement (Istanbul, 1996) and food (Rome, 1996). Each of these conferences set agendas that, amongst other things, were dependent on adults acquiring new knowledge, skills and attitudes. For example, the active protection and promotion of human rights envisaged at the conference in Vienna, required a sustained programme of public education on human rights. It thus became clear that adult learning was central to the achievement of each of these sectoral programmes of action. The importance of CONFINTEA V was that it captured this insight and enunciated a new vision of adult education as multi-sectoral and integral to the attainment of development agendas.

Since the holding of CONFINTEA V in 1997 the most influential development agenda set at the international level has been that contained in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs focus on poverty, education, gender equality, health, the environment and international cooperation as the key development issues. The Goals have helped to mobilise development activity and have provided tools for measuring progress. The UN’s five year MDG review summit in September, 2005 will no doubt show the problems of implementation and the limitations on progress, as well as some achievements. There are of course alternative global development agendas, such as those associated with the World Social Forum like the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP). The GCAP is a network of civil society organisations and social movements separate from governments and the United Nations which has a greater focus on economic justice and popular participation. It is also important to note that there are national development agendas which reflect the specific contexts of different countries. Whilst there may be similarities at a very general level, such as poverty reduction, the specific development agendas of, say, South Africa and India, are quite different from those of, say, Chad and Myanmar. We need to bear in mind this diversity of agendas when considering how adult education can contribute to development.

The relationship between adult education and development in the global South is one that I have explored at length in my book The Political Economy of Adult Education (Youngman, 2000a). (I should note at this point that the concept of “development” that is used in the context of the global South is simply a particular instance of social thought that envisages a more desirable society and considers how to realise it. The principle of action for a better society is relevant also in the global North, with similar implications for adult educators and their training.) In the book I showed that there are different perspectives on the meaning of development and how to achieve it. I argued that the nature of adult education is shaped by the discourses and realties of development. For example, in those countries where the neo-liberal paradigm of development is predominant, work-related learning offered by private institutions is a major part of the adult education landscape. But I also argued that adult education can shape the nature of development. For example, in many countries, non-governmental organisations driven by a people-centred vision of development are providing adult education programmes that are empowering people to seek social justice. Choices about the purposes, the content and methods, the participants and the mode of organisation of adult education are therefore not technical decisions taken in a social vacuum, but are profoundly influenced by development paradigms. This is why I concluded the book by saying that there is a fundamental question which confronts us, namely: what kind of adult education for what kind of development? In the context of this Conference, there is a need to add another question: what kind of training for adult educators?

Strengthening the Training of Adult Educators

In my view, CONFINTEA V had very important implications for the training of adult educators. Not only did it give a new emphasis to the role of adult education in attaining development agendas, it also identified the need to improve the professional development of adult educators within the overall thematic area of “Improving the conditions and quality of adult learning”. Although this was not highlighted by the Conference, the conclusion I drew was that if adult education is to have the desired impact on development, then there is a need for well-prepared adult educators of the right kind.

This was the focus of my article “Training the post-CONFINTEA adult educator”, which IIZ/DVV published in Adult education and Development in 2000 (Youngman, 2000b). In the article I argued that the vision of adult education espoused by CONFINTEA V could only be realised if there were well-trained adult educators to implement the new kinds of adult education policies and programmes. In turn, the key elements of CONFINTEA V should provide the basis for developing the curricula of both initial and continuing training programmes. For example, the training of the post- CONFINTEA adult educator must develop a commitment to social justice and to the importance of working in multi-sectoral partnerships. In this context, I raised a number of issues related to training in terms of organisational contexts, formats and processes, content and training materials, and the use of new technologies. I concluded by arguing for the importance of international co-operation, both North- South and South-South.

These ideas resonated with the emerging thinking within IIZ/DVV at that time as the organisation reflected on new directions for its training of trainers programme. Since then, IIZ/DVV has supported a number of initiatives related to new perspectives on the training of adult educators. For example, in 2001, IIZ/DVV requested the Department of Adult Education of the University of Botswana to organise a workshop in Gaborone for its African partner institutions on networking and materials development. A good number of you who are here today attended that workshop. The major outcome was the new textbook series African Perspectives on Adult Learning. The series is being launched during this Conference and it is the product of an exciting partnership between the UNESCO Institute for Education, the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association, the Department of Adult Education of the University of Botswana, and a commercial publisher, Pearson Education South Africa. The project seeks to build textbook writing capacity and promote curriculum development as well as produce high quality, affordable and relevant textbooks for Africa.

IIZ/DVV also funded resource persons from three continents for a workshop at the Sixth World Assembly of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) held in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, 2001. The workshop was entitled “Training the post-CONFINTEA adult educator” and an international group of adult educators explored the issues of training within the perspective of CONFINTEA V. The group agreed that the training of adult educators deserved a higher degree of emphasis at the national and international level. The group considered a number of topics including the need to ensure that there is a diversity of training opportunities varying from academic university courses for full-time professionals to non-formal workshops for activists in social movements. To me this is a very important point, as the concerns of institutions of higher education sometimes dominate discussions of adult educator training to the exclusion of the many other forms of training that are necessary. The workshop also highlighted the importance of developing the capacity for research and materials development to make sure that training programmes are relevant to local contexts. A key recommendation of the workshop was that ICAE should establish a thematic network on the training of adult educators. Unfortunately, because of the funding and organisational problems facing ICAE, this has not materialised. But I continue to believe that a strong international network of those concerned with the training of adult educators is an essential mechanism for professional cooperation and capacity- building. I hope that this Conference can reinvigorate this idea and propose a viable organisational form.

The most recent event to take a global view of the training of adult educators was the CONFINTEA Mid-term Review Meeting held in Bangkok, Thailand in 2003. At the Meeting, a thematic workshop was held on adult educator training. The presentations from Latin America, South Asia, Africa and Northern Europe provided the basis for an inter-regional overview of the major issues. The proceedings of the workshop have just been published by the UNESCO Institute for Education in a booklet entitled Strengthening the training of adult educators: Learning from an inter-regional exchange of experience (Youngman and Singh, 2005). I believe this document captures the most up to date international thinking on the training of adult educators and I would like to highlight five key areas which are relevant for this Conference.

a) The quality of training programmes

The workshop concluded that current training programmes have a number of weaknesses and therefore

“there is a need for more innovative training programmes that integrate theory and practice, enable collaborative and participatory learning, address the personal values of the adult educator, and show greater concern for adult education’s social and political role.” (Youngman and Singh, 2005, p.4)

I think that this statement provides a benchmark for this Conference when considering the survey reports.

b) Training programmes and the multiple roles of the adult educator

CONFINTEA’s expanded vision of adult education demands a broad conception of the adult educator that encompasses many different types of person and many different roles. The concept encompasses people working in varied sectoral fields (such as health and agriculture) and in varying contexts, from full-time professionals to community leaders. Their tasks include teaching, organising, counselling, evaluation, facilitating, coaching and mobilising learners, as well as undertaking research and developing teaching materials. The workshop advocated that training programmes must address these multiple roles in terms of curricula and modes of delivery, and this is a point we can bear in mind when considering the present situation in Africa and the Asia/Pacific regions during this Conference.

c) Recognition and professionalisation of adult educators

The workshop noted that adult educators often have low status linked to low salaries, job insecurity and lack of professionalisation. This low esteem impacts on their effectiveness. Hence there is a link between training and the wider issue of the status and working conditions of adult educators, and indeed the social recognition of adult education itself as an important part of socio-economic development. The workshop suggested that adult educators themselves must be more proactive in influencing policies and promoting their own interests through involvement with trade unions and strong national associations of adult educators. Again, I think this is an issue which this Conference should also encompass in its deliberations.

d) National policies on the training of adult educators

An international perspective indicates that there are very few national policies on the training of adult educators. One notable exception is the National Policy on Adult Learning in Namibia, which has a section on human resources development for adult learning personnel. The workshop proposed that there should be national statements on the training of adult educators produced by all the stakeholders to provide direction and a concentration of efforts. The Conference may wish to consider whether it is indeed helpful to have national policies on the training of adult educators, and if, so how they might be generated. For example, the Bangkok workshop suggested that they might be produced under the auspices of the National Commission for UNESCO.

e) International cooperation and networking

International cooperation with respect to the training of adult educators is unevenly developed. For example, Latin America and the Caribbean has a well-developed network for regional cooperation on adult education, based on the Regional Office of UNESCO, and the Regional Centre for Cooperation for Adult Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (CREFAL), and the Latin America Council for Adult Education (CEAAL), and this network has promoted meetings on issues of training. Other regions do not seem to be so well organised. Whilst the benefits of increased cooperation are clear, the organisational options need consideration. For instance, is it better to establish new networks or to arrange for a special interest section within existing networks? Should the main focus be the development of cooperation at the regional level or at the international level, or both? Should networks link up institutions or individuals, or both? Recommendations on how to organise and support international cooperation must be a key outcome of this Conference.

These points were made in a thematic workshop held at the CON- FINTEA V Mid-Term Review Meeting in Bangkok in 2003. The overall report of the Meeting, entitled Recommitting to adult education and learning, included the statement: 

“Achieving high quality in adult learning programs depends in large measure on the availability of knowledgeable, skilful, sensitive and socially committed adult educators. Yet priority has not been given to their training.” (UNESCO, 2003, p.13)

The significance of our Conference in Cape Town this week is that it is giving a very high priority at the international level to the training of adult educators, and I would once again like to commend IIZ/DVV for this initiative.

Making a Difference?

At the beginning of this address I said that it is my assumption that well-prepared adult educators will produce high quality programmes that will in turn help to achieve development agendas. However, I think it is fair to say that we need more evidence to support this assumption. If we are to assert this with confidence and convince policy-makers and purse-holders, then we need the data with which to argue our case. Hence I think we need to give priority to research that will provide the evidence we need. Two kinds of research are required, namely needs assessment studies and outcome studies. I will briefly illustrate them with examples from the work of my colleagues at the University of Botswana.

The importance of needs assessment studies is that they demonstrate that the design of training is specifically intended to improve practical performance. If we can show that our training activities are planned to meet the realities of the situations in which adult educators work, then I think we have part of the evidence required to prove that training can make a difference. For example, my colleague Flora Tladi undertook PhD research on the competency requirements of agricultural extension agents as perceived by their supervisors and by the farmers they work with. Her study identified the behaviour categories that supervisors and farmers use to assess the effectiveness of the extension agents, such as initiative, work knowledge, concern for farmers and motivation. The study also identified the technical competencies (such as report writing and planning) and the personal competencies (such as good work relations and reliability) that supervisors and farmers regard as important. Tladi (2004) argues that these findings should be part of a comprehensive needs assessment that can ensure the relevance of pre-service and in-service training. I believe that if we can demonstrate that our training is based on the actual roles and all-round competency requirements of an identified group of adult educators, then we have begun to provide the necessary evidence.

But the evidence also needs to be produced that the outcomes of training include improved performance and socio-economic change. This requires tracer studies that follow up those who have been trained, and impact studies which assess the influence that adult educators actually have on learning programmes and, in turn, on specific aspects of development, such as nutritional status or income levels. My colleague Oitshepile Modise is currently completing her PhD, which has the title Labor market demand and incipient profession- alization in African adult education: Tracing graduates of University of Botswana adult education programs. She is looking at the role of academic training programmes in the professionalization of the field and in meeting the needs of the labour market, including satisfying the competency requirements for the design and implementation of adult learning programmes. She is asking whether training programmes enhance the welfare and productivity of the beneficiaries. In particular, do employers and former students

“feel that their training and experience enable them to bring to adult education-related problems in the field a set of skills and knowledge that is demonstrably useful for the resolution of these problems and that people who have not received their training do not possess.” (Modise, 2004, p. 12)

In other words, does their training make them different to those who have not been trained? Tracer studies such as this need to be supplemented by impact studies and evaluations which investigate whether the programmes organized by trained adult educators really do improve some aspect of development.

I think we need this kind of applied research in order to assure ourselves and our stakeholders that indeed the training of adult educators does make a difference. I would like to request the Conference to take up this theme and make recommendations for practical action.

The Challenge of Lifelong Learning

Before I conclude, I would like to reflect briefly on the challenge of lifelong learning for the training of adult educators. The concept of lifelong learning gained great prominence in the early 1990s, especially in the global North, where economic and technological changes stimulated the need for expanded training and re-training within the adult population. The renewed significance of lifelong learning had a strong influence on CONFINTEA V. The Hamburg Declaration on Adult Learning stated that adult learning and the education of children are both “necessary elements of a new vision of education in which learning becomes truly lifelong” (UNESCO, 1997, p.2). Adult education was clearly articulated as part of a lifelong process. Since then there has been continued advocacy for the importance of lifelong Learning for all in both the rich North and the poor South, most notably in the work of Rosa Maria Torres, recently encapsulated in her study Life- long learning in the South: Critical issues and opportunities for adult education (Torres, 2004). Many of us believe that this is a historically significant development for the conceptualisation of education and training systems and for adult education in particular.

However, in the discourse on lifelong learning, one observes an increasing tendency to use ‘lifelong learning’ interchangeably with adult education and learning, and even for the term lifelong learning to supplant adult education and learning in policies, programmes and organisational structures. The successful promotion of the concept of lifelong learning threatens to exacerbate the existing problem of the identity and recognition of adult education. More and more people are undertaking the tasks of the adult educator but fewer and fewer identify themselves as an ‘adult educator’. We are now everywhere and nowhere at the same time! This has implications for adult education as a distinct field of study and professional practice. For example, in the USA traditional departments of adult education are disappearing or being submerged within other units (Milton, Watkins, Studdard and Burch, 2003). One of the strongest departments in the USA, at the University of Georgia, has recently been incorporated within a new Department of Lifelong Education, Administration and Policy. In the academic world, the defined boundaries of adult education as a field of study and the institutional form it takes are changing, at a time when the professional competencies of those trained to work with adult learners are increasingly important in a wide variety of fields. I believe this trend is a major issue that the Conference must consider.


This Conference has been convened to examine the present situation with regard to the training of adult educators in the Africa and Asia/Pacific regions and to make recommendations for the future. I am sure that it will identify clearly the current trends in the provision of training for adult educators and provide a critical analysis of how to move forward. I expect that the Conference recommendations will help us to strengthen our institutions and programmes and will suggest practical ways in which we can develop international cooperation. Above all, I hope that the Conference will reinforce the linkages between development agendas and the training of adult educators, so that, together, we really can make a difference.


Milton,J; Watkins,K.E; Studdard,S.S. and Burch,M. (2003). The ever widening gyre: Factors affecting change in adult education graduate programs in the United States. Adult Education Quarterly, 54,1, pp. 23-41.

Modise, O.M. (2004). Labor market demand and incipient professionalization in Afri- can adult education: Tracing graduates of University of Botswana adult education programs. A Dissertation Prospectus submitted to the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Florida State University, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Tladi, F. M. (2004). Competency requirements for extension agents in eastern Bot- swana as perceived by supervisors and farmers. Journal of Extension Systems, 20, pp. 32-41.

Torres, R.M. (2004). Lifelong learning in the South: Critical issues and opportunities for adult education. Stockholm: SIDA.

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Youngman, F. (2000b). Training the Post-CONFINTEA Adult educator. Adult Education and Development, 54, pp.285-299.

Youngman, F. and Singh, M. (2005). Strengthening the training of adult educators. Learning from an inter-regional exchange of experience. Hamburg: UNESCO Institute for Education.